REFUGEE

by mgopin on May 29, 2017 · 2 comments

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It is the most frequently commanded law in the Bible. It is the foundation of what should be recalled every seven days, and every single holiday throughout the Bible. It is the foundation of the identity of the physical and spiritual ancestor of half of planet earth’s human inhabitants who call themselves religious. The abuse of this law, it is warned, is the basis of the destruction of society. It is purposefully and explicitly anti-misogynist and pro-women and children.

 

It has many names: refugee, resident alien, illegal alien, landless, homeless. It is the law of Ger, Yatom and Almanah. It is the law that says that no matter what happens in your society, no matter how rich you become, no matter how poor you become, no matter how beleaguered, embattled, selfish, miserable, or confused, you must love the refugee, the widow, the orphan, if you want to survive on the land. As if those commandments were not repeated enough, and embedded in every single holiday and celebration, it is uttered as the most important self-identification of the ancestor of all peoples who claim this ancient religion.

 

Abraham says effectively this in one of his most important foreign policy speeches after much travel. He says, “I am a refugee, I have no legal status with you and I have no land. Can you please allow me to pay good money to buy one small parcel of land, so that I can bury my dear Sarah, my wife.” And the people are so deeply impressed by the honor and decency of this refugee that they insist that he bury freely, but he insists to the contrary, that everything should be by the law, and a proper ownership. Kind to his wife, honest with strangers, but shrewd with his destiny, he understands that refugees don’t fare well until they have legal title. A man ahead of his time.

 

In that spirit, with that memory in mind, and with a keen sense of pain over the absolute homelessness and vulnerability of the worst kind of homeless refugee, the slave, this long Biblical story culminates in no less than 36 commandments to love the refugee, to never forget your origins, going back millions of years for all of human origins, your origins as refugee.

 

It is as if the Bible plastered the law, rebukes about the law, stories about the law, the law as essential to anyone who claims ancestry, spiritual or otherwise, it is as if the Bible places it in every single corner of its sacred word, so that a selfish bigot might not run to try to establish a hypocritical religion and a divine connection without the refugee. This Canadian Casino is based on Microgaming software and offers exciting slots that give money! And so the Bible literally sticks it in the face of the reader, no matter how much the reader may not want to think about refugees, homeless people, as if the reader would like to erase inglorious history. But the Bible comes back at you and says that if you want to erase your history as a refugee because it is inglorious I will erase you as an inglorious bastard, I will make you a refugee so that you can never deny your origin and identity.

 

This is tough medicine for Christians, Muslims and Jews who all claim Abraham as ancestor and godfather, but it is very good medicine. It is this medicine that gave rise to the spirit of the Enlightenment that, though darkened and tarnished by the centuries, is still with us, and still calls to us for the creation of a society that is truly enlightened, that reaches for the stars by loving and strengthening the least of us. The societies that truly win in the contests with barbarity on this planet are the ones who welcome the refugee, the bearers of human diversity and hope. America was strengthened this way, but now it will be western Europe. For in the throng of refugees lies our future, our future geniuses, our future leaders, our saviors from ourselves. They will not bury our identities, they will complete our identities, they will restore our identities, they will pull us out of barren materialism and strange narcissism, and they will remind us of our best selves and our highest destiny.

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(As it appeared in the Huffington Post. )

There is a war for your brain in today’s politics, and the weapon of that war is language manipulation. George Lakoff has spent his career demonstrating the power of language and neural nets to trap us into thinking thoughts we do not necessarily want to think, to believe things that we would question if we were not being manipulated. In a wonderful interview , Lakoff describes a series of words that have changed us. For example, people were convinced at a certain point that taxes were not an investment in our future, in our society, but a burden to be relieved. Everyone repeated the phrase “tax relief” that we all forgot that taxes are essential to everything in our lives, our roads, our police, our hospitals, our schools, our safety in every respect. This is the exact neural path through which taxes became an enemy rather than a democratic consensus for investment in all of us.

 

Now we have a new and more dangerous set of words that must be confronted.

 

Please folks, do not let your mind be manipulated by fascism in its many guises. Do not change your vocabulary and your brain, do not become manipulated through words.

 

  1. There is no such thing as alternative facts, so do not use the phrase. There are lies and there are truths, and then there are complex realities where the true and the false are difficult to discern. But that is our job as responsible adults, to discern fact from fiction, to seek truth, no matter how complex it may be.
  2. There is no such thing as an “alt-right”, like some button on your car. There are fascists, there are Nazis. There is an explosion of white supremacy thinking and behavior in the United States, as numerous scholars have articulated. Then call it what it is. There are democratic and anti-democratic ideas and practices. Call them what they actually are. There are conservative opinions on a range of issues, there are more liberal opinions on a range of issues. Call it what it is, in your best assessment.
  3. There is no such thing as “fake news”. There is news that is true and there are falsehoods presented as truth pretending to be news, and responsible adults are supposed to work at discerning the difference. This phrase confuses the mind and is meant to. So do not use it.
  4. As my colleague Will Urquhart has pointed, out there is no such thing as “pre-existing conditions”. There is the normal human body in sickness and health, and conditions come and go based on how much society is prepared to accept that health is a human right. So do not use the expression pre-existing condition, because it is a manipulation of the mind. Proof? There are conditions on the list so benign, such as reflux, that it becomes clear that the entire list is there to raise everyone’s premiums astronomically. Call such conditional healthcare what it is, murder of the sick or abandonment of the sick.

Please feel free to suggest additions to this list.

We have a lot of work to do to protect American civilization, to protect the innocent, to bring average people back to their senses. For that we need to refine our language, to frame our criticism and our vision in the positive, but also to expose loaded words designed to manipulate.

 

Words matter especially in the signs we make to essentialize our message, as so many brilliant people have done in the countless demonstrations across the country. Let’s gather and proliferate the bits of wisdom that so many are creating, let’s repeat them again and again, because the brain needs simplicity and repetition to shift its worldview. Above all, let us be kind to each other as we struggle, each with our own words and messages, to move our precious civilization in the direction of greater and greater humanity.

 

 

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A version of this originally published in the Huffington Post

The largest coordinated national and international protest in American history snuck up on me, like a long-lost friend’s unannounced visit. I spent half my life pining over being slightly too young and too conservative to have been together with Woodstock’s 400,000. But there I was 48 years later, half a century later, on January 21, 2017, stumbling unwittingly out of the Metro red line at Judiciary Square, Washington, DC, and spilling onto a sea of humanity packed like sardines, and into an experience that dwarfed 1969 Woodstock. This was not a sea of kids scared to death of the draft, everyone in their twenties, raucous music and lots of sex. There was no tear gas and rage and throwing stuff everywhere like Chicago 1968.

There was plenty of anger, but there was this strange peace among people of every age group and race, religious and secular, the very young and the very old, families with kids, the super straight and the extraordinarily tattooed, every social group imaginable. The crowd was exuberant but sad, ecstatic but serious, eager to march but almost absurdly patient and kind. They were mostly women but an astonishing number of supportive men. I still cannot understand the calm without guides, without any instructions whatever, without any sound system or video or speeches, crushed by a turnout so large that no one could move.

Here is the thing, most of us were content to just be with each other without direction, massively crushed, enjoying each other’s signs and all our outrageous peculiarities and differences. It is as if some outside dark force had ordered us to say hello to each other for the first time in our lives, because we knew in our hearts that we may be about to lose each other. The scientists know well that loss, fear of loss, is a far more powerful motivator than opportunity for gain. We average Americans sat there like sardines, very patient, because we knew that what we were doing right then and there, that freedom of assembly, may be lost. But with such high stakes why was it all so calm, why weren’t we angry at organizers or lack of directions?

I saw something new, some new state of mind cutting across generations, with no tension with one age group or gender against the other, no race or religion against one another, no secular against religious, no mockery of any group or phenomenon, except mockery of mockery itself. I also saw something not led from the top, but led from our strange attraction to each other in a time of sorrow, of loss. I sensed it from the first second we entered the metro and discovered long lines of strangers from around the country lining up for metro cards, lines I had never in my life seen in Washington.

I sensed already on the DC Metro, rushing as a mob to the last usually empty cars that everyone filled to every single space, and then we looked at each other after the doors closed in amazement. Who are all these people? Why do they all wear the same pussy hats? Who coordinated all of our feelings? What the hell has just happened to my individual loneliness and hellish confrontation with the possible end of democracy? Where was my lonely sorrow, and why did all these people have the same look in their eyes of longing, sadness, hope? It was as if we knew no one but knew everyone and the pain they carried inside. With complete strangers, at each turn of our journey to the march, we sensed urgency, but not urgency to get to the march, urgency that we might lose the most precious gift of freedom that our ancestors had given us. We were racing not to the marching grounds but to an inheritance that we felt we could lose. As the march on Washington was lived on the ground, there was a new reality born, a reality of collective care and commitment to save what we can always be lost. No intellectual rebuke, from Socrates to Eisenhower could convince us of what we might lose as much as the reality of these days.
When massive crowds come to know each other, history often adjusts. In April 1967, about 300,000 people demonstrated against the war in New York. In 1965, most Americans had supported U.S. policies in Vietnam, but by 1967 only 35 percent did so. In October 1969, more than 2 million people participated in Vietnam Moratorium protests across the country. The following month, over 500,000 demonstrated in Washington and 150,000 in San Francisco. The American population at the time was about 190 million, and today it is about 320 million. With our millions this past week, we are not that far off from the kind of numbers that changed history and changed attitudes in the United States within a few small years. But there was persistence and momentum that made the difference in the 1960s, and our future and our willpower is still uncertain.

What impressed me most about all the demonstrations around the world that these women led is calm. One of the reasons for the unbelievable calm, composure, kindness and self-discipline of the masses, is that we are wiser today about ourselves, about violence, about anger, and about change. Oh, we are angry, and every one of the participants felt aggrieved or wounded in one way or the other by the unjust, illiberal and tragic way in which a minority in the country, together with a minority of billionaires and covert leaders, seized the country, enjoyed an absurd mascot, and began to dismantle every aspect of democratic safety, with bullying of each of us in different parts of our identity. But we are impressed by the relationship between inner peace and outer peace, the consequences of personal behavior, personal demeanor for the effectiveness of social change. Calm hovered over the atmosphere like a soft blanket in situations that were often tense with deeply uncomfortable crowding, no directions, no way out (I tried to go home for an hour and gave up), no guidance, no police protection, no program that could be heard or seen, at least in DC.

Perhaps we are reaching a new stage of history. We show up with our minds and our bodies to challenge injustice, to fight for a better way, but we are doing so with calm restraint and love, from teenagers to twenty-somethings, every single decade of human beings, gay and straight, every religion and no religion, angry for a thousand legitimate reasons, and still harming no one, aiding many and guiding many at every turn, with the calm aid of others an act of ultimate defiance against bullying itself.

Historians and conflict analysts will study this day, for both its purposeful qualities, its accidental qualities, and the surprising global outcome. They will study the action/reaction spiral of threats to democracy and the response of the masses. They will note that these marches occurred in the shadow of other mobs that have been given permission to threaten and bully isolated individuals and institutions across the country. They will note the less understood and bewildering contemporary effects of false social media, virtual bullying, virtual mob violence, and the instrumentalization of this by foreign states and agencies. But they will also note with incredulity the spontaneous courage of millions of strangers, led by women, to forge quiet, determined commitments that can be summed up on one placard: This is what democracy looks like.

They will note the overwhelming evidence from every conflict region in the world that where there is increasing equality of men and women together in struggle, something dramatically wise and calm occurs in human thinking and collective decision making, something that explains the sustainability of women’s peace relationships with other women and men across enemy lines in the worst war zones. They will note that something dramatic is happening to human evolution of consciousness and evolution of change that occurs with less violence in direct correspondence to when women and men unite as equals.

Let’s make this the norm of the American future, let’s do this often in strategic ways, let’s do it locally at every level of decision-making. We need to change, we need to unite, but we need to do so with calm and discernment. We have learned that the way we gather, the way we look at each other, the way we talk to each other, has far-reaching consequences for the kind and quality of power that we generate, for the kind and quality of society that we build. We can be angry; we can be ferociously determined to change what is unjust. But with calm, with kindness, we become an unstoppable force of social persuasion and enlightened democratic life.

Follow Marc Gopin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mgopin

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Who says commerce can never lead the way? This company had the courage to revive one of the most important moments in history. That day between British and German troops should be immortalized in the annals of peace as one of the central turning points. It should be studied by every person in other parts of the world who suffers under “eternal” enemies at each other’s throats. It is the art of the possible. The art of lone men, lone leaders who pave the way with a different idea in their head of the men they are pointing their guns at. This is leaders, a new idea, and the resulting festival of goodness.

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LEADERSHIP, IDEA, AND EVIL

by mgopin on December 27, 2015 · 0 comments

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There is no mystery to evil.
In fact making evil into a mystery,
Is a bad idea.
There are only good ideas and bad ideas.
Anything that brings purposeful, unprovoked harm,
To other sentient beings,
Is a bad idea.
Evil is a bad idea,
In the hands of a leader.
Be a leader only,
With a good idea.
If you must,
Be a follower,
For a good idea.
Be smart enough,
To be aware,
Of your own bad ideas,
And confine them to your head.
If you cannot,
Then you must leave immediately.

The temptation to mystify evil is equal to our bewilderment at humanity, how many good people are led to do the worst things imaginable. The answer is not evil in them, but the evil of bad ideas inside leaders, and the tragedy of human obedience. The one alternative that has always worked is very good ideas in the hands of a proliferation of good leaders that passes from generation to generation.

-Marc Gopin

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A Great Sifting of Religions

by mgopin on December 11, 2015 · 1 comment

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Has anyone else sensed that global crisis is becoming like a massive sifter of the major religions? It is separating out hate ideology from piety, so that as the sifting increases we are starting to see who in each religion is a charlatan hater cloaked in religious garb, and who is penetrating deeper every day into spiritual authenticity and sacred courage.

See this article. Here is an excerpt:

As Rabbi Rick Jacobs defined it in his December 2013 address at the URJ Biennial in San Diego, “audacious hospitality isn’t just a temporary act of kindness so that people don’t feel left out; it’s an ongoing invitation to be part of a community where we can become all that God wants us to be—and a way to transform ourselves in the process.”  At this moment more than ever, the world needs people like Rivka—those who are willing to uphold the principle of welcoming the stranger.

Rabbi Daniel Gropper, who advocated for Obama to let 100,000 refugees into the U.S., described this for a Westchester News 12 article as “Hear the call, be the call.”  Our call as a Jewish people is to recognize that we have been the strangers, to appreciate the human person in the strangers, and to show the world’s current strangers that we have not forgotten them.

The refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East is the biggest migration crisis since World War II—when we, the Jewish people, were the strangers. (“Refugee Crisis Response.” Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, September 16, 2015.)  Germany and Austria, which have each given refuge to thousands, are at the breaking point and are facing no choice but to close their borders. Right now, when so many need countries around the world to open their doors, they are finding hostile borders instead. This is a worldwide crisis, and we as the people of the United States, as the people of a country with the resources to make a difference, must do our part in creating a home for those who have none.

– See more at: http://www.reformjudaism.org/blog/2015/11/05/human-every-stranger#sthash.pPaxSSbt.dpuf

 

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FLAGS AND THE LIGHT

by mgopin on December 8, 2015 · 0 comments

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Light lasts forever, and we are light. If the energy and mass it took to create all of the atoms and molecules that evolved into our consciousness and spirit come from the light and return to it, then the light that the Menorah generates is eternal. To me this is the ancient holiday of Hanukkah.
 
When this picture was taken that flag reigned terror on the entire world, it was invincible, and the little Menorah was weak as could be. Brutality rises so high but disappears so quickly, while the light lasts forever. My heart goes out deeply to those who took the picture so long ago, I doubt I could have survived. But to me the picture is a triumph of light over darkness, eternity over that passing vapor of empty bullying.

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Reflections on recent events

by mgopin on October 21, 2015 · 0 comments

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Originally posted here on Oct. 19, 2015.

I am starting to see very clearly that there are those people who have the moral and emotional intelligence to understand two sides of a conflict, two enemies at once, and there are those who need to demonize someone in every situation. There are those who can empathize with their own community and with another, and there are those who at every turn look to demonize one group and whitewash their own. These are two camps of humanity, one with an evolved mind, and one with a primitive mind. Educational levels and graduate degrees having nothing to do with these two camps.

I am horrified by the mob mentality, I am saddened by many people I have helped and defended, not from my own community, who the first chance they get, join virtual lynch mobs.

The fact is that it is easy to demonize, it is the lazy primitive brain’s way out of stress. It takes work to see good and bad existing side by side, in Israelis, in Iranians, in Palestinians, in Americans, in Pakistanis, in African Americans, in Southerners, in Jews, in Muslims, in Christians.

I will never again assume that if someone is from a victim group that they have an evolved moral mind, and I will never again assume that education has anything to do with empathy, balance, and the capacity for making peace between enemies.

I see Palestinians and Israelis working hard, individually and in groups, to stop the killing, to work with each other, to save each other. and then I see primitive minds on the side, like spectators in the Coliseum, looking for blood, looking for guilt and innocence, waiting to pounce in judgment, in hate.

Now it is crunch time, when you want to help in situations of war, from Syria, to Israel and Palestine, there is only one way, dispassionate investigation, listening, suspension of quick judgment, discernment, empathy, and an abhorrence of lynch mobs, real and virtual.

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CONFLICT DEESCALATION IN JERUSALEM AND HEBRON: JUST A THOUGHT
 SUNDAY, 18 OCTOBER 2015 (as originally published on Facebook here)
We need a rapid response team, perhaps through an app, of respected observers of violent incidents in both communities, people who know and trust each other, to rapidly investigate and disseminate the facts as best they know them, in order for whatever reactions that occur be based on better knowledge of all the facts. Perhaps the app could be open, but with a respected panel who can immediately detect those on the app with consistent disinformation.
This is a suggestion for a new tactic of precision popular journalism across enemy lines. I know journalists on both sides who are committed to their profession and also to peace, and I know many on both sides who have a firm interest in saving lives always as a priority. I also know the threat of groupthink and obedience. Journalists on both sides often will defer to information from authorities as if it is gospel. This is a universal problem (Just look at the laughable Reuters feed on Russian Syrian targeting, where the authority is the Russian defense ministry).
But in Israel/Palestine we have some very dedicated journalists, both professional and popular, who could work together to correct all the deliberate manipulations and stay with sober but rapid reporting.
The key is rapidity of knowledge transfer that is responsible, to counteract rapidity that is not.
There are those who want this conflict to escalate. There are those who don’t care if it escalates and are happy to take lives and make a point. There are many who do not understand the consequences of their own bullying and violence because, at least when it comes to this conflict, they are dumb bastards. Then there are the rest of us who stand in awe watching. Progressives gather, as they should, and express solidarity and even love across sectarian lines. But I am looking at the rapid way in which opposite narratives develop on each incident and it fuels the fear and the rage, which is sometimes done unconsciously and sometimes deliberately.
We need to find better ways to immediately contain this and counteract it for the millions in the middle who are afraid, and do not know what to do or think, or in the words of Jonah, who do not know their right from their left. This paralysis due to poor facts or groupthink is costing lives. We need to become creative to save lives.

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By Marc Gopin

Tom Banchoff’s essay raises important insights and deepens the discussion about the historical relations between organized religion now and in the future with secular forms of power, governance, and authority structures. Banchoff rightly warns that ignoring these trends is a grave mistake in assessing the future, in tracking what kind of balance and shift in balance of powers may be taking place. There is no question that political Islam has had an enormous impact on contemporary history, even though it is too early to say where this will lead.

I want to focus my thoughts and response on two aspects of religion that are often not distinguished sufficiently in terms of our subjects of power and religion as well as secular and religious sources of authority in history and going forward.

There are two essentially different elements of religion as a human phenomenon that often have little to do with each other, are often confused in analysis, and are often at odds with each other. These two have very different and opposite impacts on the course of human history and the perennial struggle for power, for freedom, and the desired ethical, political, and cultural arrangement of society. One is religious power as expressed in organized religion, and the other is religious values with profound implications for the nature of human living on earth.

The essence of the struggle for emancipation from organized religion, from Socrates to the present, has been mostly about opposing the use and abuse of religious power and authority to suppress what are known today as the basic freedoms and basic human rights. The motivations of religious authorities, from ancient times to the present, to engage in these suppressions, I argue, are just as often of a deeply profane or secular origin. They belong far more in the realm of the struggle for power of some human beings over others, and struggle for the control of material resources. The great Biblical prophets exposed this over 2,500 years ago, pitting themselves against the priests of the time who used ritual and religion to control others, to build their own wealth or that of their kings and benefactors, and to engage in theft, murder, and war.

Little has changed in this regard. All societies struggle with the corrupting nature of power, and democrats who are children of the Enlightenment, as well as disciples of many religious prophetic insights, have struggled to create political systems that can effectively cope with the corruptions of power. Those systems sometimes are more strictly secular and sometimes nominally religious, but all are united by an investment in human rights, the importance of every human being’s representation in the halls of power, at least if they are citizens of the state.

This issue of citizen’s rights points to one of the weaknesses of secular constructs of human rights at the present time, and that is that they tend to heavily favor citizens, and heavily ignore the consequences of state behavior for non-citizens within and beyond borders, especially in terms of global commerce, foreign policy and military adventures. Nevertheless, it was Christian Pietists such as the visionary Immanuel Kant who predicted the essential necessity of completing the journey toward enforceable human rights for all human beings—the categorical imperative by a steady march toward global governance, something still in our future but steadily emerging.

Unlike the course of history for religious values, which have played an essential role in the evolution of democracy and human rights, in conflict resolution methods and diplomacy from every major religion, the course of history of organized religion in this regard has been utterly dismal until the post-WWII period. But even now we face some catastrophic realities of ultra-violence due to the ease with which states and corrupt clerics in good standing with their organized religions can still work together to fund—openly or secretly—extremism, hate, intolerance, religious warfare, ethnic cleansing and even genocide.

I began to write the first books on conflict analysis, conflict resolution, religion, and diplomacy in the early 1990s. Since then many have joined. Our writings were often based on our experience and experimentation in the field, just as in secular conflict analysis and conflict resolution. I can say categorically that religious values can and do play a pivotal role in the steady march of the planet toward less violence, more equality, more freedom, and more justice.

I can also say categorically that, from what we have seen, there is a sure path to aid religious people and their organized religions to greater and greater contributions to these enlightened values, these psychological and political evolutions of the human mind that were foreseen by many prophets. But it is essential in order to accomplish this states be absolutely prevented from controlling, manipulating, or using religion as a weapon of war or a means of control.

It is also essential that religious values play a role in the great ethical and political debates, but no role as organized political entities. The less power organized religion has, the more its clerics, both lowly and powerful, become voices of conscience and enlightenment. The more power they have, the worse they become, and the more their progress is retarded. This is a constant across the globe and across history. I think we are doing well in that for many decades now it appears that the marriage of many clerics and secular leaders in pursuit of common values is eminently possible. But where states interfere with this process, engage in brutal suppression using religious extremism or extremists (overtly or covertly), the more we will see a struggle between organized religion and secular institutions.

It is clear that different religions and communities are experiencing challenges and changes unique to them, due to an unnatural mix of mundane power and religion that waxes and wanes in different communities and different regions. But the rules are clear. The more religion is abused for power and suppression, the more religion will be a tool of violence—and the more most people, given the chance, will escape its clutches, often pitting whatever they construct for safety, security, and political expression against religion and religious people. But there are ample experiments globally for an alternative to this deadly confrontation.

 

Originally published here on the Berkeley Center’s forum at Georgetown University on September, 24, 2015.

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